05 March 2010

calling attention

tribunals reactions

Mostly what you would expect. Not much jubilation in the GOP. Who doesn't even want to have tribunals at all under an Obama administration but rather is cynically resorting to denying any victories over terrorists (political or militarily) while he's in office. You will note there's not much reaction positive or negative on the events in Pakistan and various attacks or captures both there and in Afghanistan. Even the troop increases in Afghanistan are being somehow ignored and passed aside as though the President is merely a pretend President until a GOP candidate is restored to the throne and none of his actions, however much in agreement with GOP talking points they may be, will ever matter (see: Romney, Mitt, and obviously Cheney, Dick, the dark master behind the scenes).

Likewise the obvious reaction of many Democrats, progressives, and of course the civil libertarian front is frustration. Rahm is getting his head marched out on a platter by these folks for a whole host of reasons while story after story in the Washington political scene paints him as this savvy operator necessary to gloss over Obama's naive assumptions of how politics operates. This is probably a kernel of truth. But when he's primarily actively doing things contrary to Obama's stated interests (or at least, contrary to Holder-Obama approach on justice) on the assumption that it will get a couple of GOP votes to accomplish some other minor and trivial goal (closing the Guantanamo prison so it can be re-opened in Illinois), then he deserves to be castigated. Which goal is more important? Closing a symbolic prison facility and continuing one of its more pressing international concerns in other locations or trying and convicting people of crimes against our state and against international law and sensibility? Probably one of these was less "politically" important. I'm assuming it's the latter since Rahm doesn't seem as accommodating on the whole "we should have a trial" front.

Anyway, the main reason I linked up there was the lines at the end of the post.
"I think it's going to be a long time before we recover from 9/11. Not from the attack, but from our response to the attack. We haven't been the same since. No? Maybe this is who we always were." - I am pretty sure we haven't changed actually. We did. For about two or three weeks. I remember the sort of civic spirit and pride that was infused in Americans for a little while. Maybe that was just shock, like the feeling and the motions people seem to go through after a sudden death or major illness in the family. That shock was replaced by something more primal, and something uglier, and, from what I can tell, something that's always been around in the American psyche: hate and fear turned into rage. Bill Halsey on viewing the carnage in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor is reputed to have said "the only place Japanese will be spoken after this is over is in Hell". Americans have always had a whipping boy for these feelings, for a long time quite literally in the form of slavery and its longer lasting underpinnings in the denial of basic civil rights. We brought up the same tactics again and again. The savage Red Man. The Red Scares and the Evil Empire. And now Iran and Islamist radicals. To be sure some of these enemies have been worthier foes than baseless claims would indicate or possessed an ideological capacity which might have been damaging were it to prevail over the constant and pressing need for some level of freedom and choice in our society. But it's far from clear that they were, any of them, ever posing a grave danger to that society. If the Brits could weather the Blitz and the massive damage and destruction that wrought upon their people and places, turning their despair into fortitude against aggression and oppression rather than as a turn toward the darker impulses of humanity, we ought to be ashamed at the level of disturbance that is necessary to stir up our passionate resentments.

This sort of ugliness or double standard is useful for comedic effect, but it rarely ever gets acknowledged in any other public way. Over the week, they had "To Kill a Mockingbird" on. I've read it, and I've seen it, several times. The fact of a man's obvious innocence, the passion with which his case is argued (for and against), and the shamefulness that he was never vindicated publicly and indeed could never be vindicated publicly was a powerful message about the way things were (and sometimes still can be). I think in many ways it is almost impossible to imagine this society as existing atop and astride that history. We are more comfortable imagining that we have improved. Perhaps, and I think it would be fair to say, we have, but that does little to accommodate a feeling of pride in our history, all of it. We are marginally ashamed of these things at times. Racism is uglier and a topic to be avoided largely because, well we still have some blacks and Asians and Jews and so on in our society. It won't do for us to acknowledge what hate and pettiness we were so often capable of but we'll at least make symbolic gestures (or what we think should be regarded as symbolic gestures and goalposts to say how race has progressed). The natives and our history with them on the other hand we pretty much purged and we seem to have a minority who wants the blood of the land stained again to rid us of these pesky "terrorists" who claim their way to be that of Allah. I sympathize with the feelings of resentment and revenge that get stirred up when an act of senseless violence claims many lives, as 9-11 did. I didn't experience those feelings myself and I thus have a very hard time imagining how they justify all that was done to carry out that revenge, but I at least realize that injustice demands justice. I'm just confused as to how people think they are attaining it. My best guess is that we haven't changed and never did. Our "better natures" almost never assert themselves because we always feel ourselves to be "superior" over these more base and vile natures that we employ to carry our will abroad and throughout the land.
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